City attorney pension drive fails
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2001
TAMPA -- A controversial bill that would have provided a lucrative pension for longtime City Attorney Jim Palermo failed to gain passage Friday as the state legislative session ended.
It was a disappointment to Mayor Dick Greco, a close friend of Palermo's who lobbied hard for the bill.
"He's a very honest and wonderful man," Greco said. "I did my part."
For others, however, the bill's death in the state House of Representatives was a welcome end to a questionable bill seen as the spawn of chummy Tampa politics.
"God bless America," said Mike Scionti, chairman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee. "This is the kind of thing that irks me. It's the kind of thing this mayor of ours has been doing for a long time. If you're in that special circle, you get special attention."
Greco said Palermo's work as city attorney has made him enemies, including people who may be behind e-mails to legislators opposing the pension package. It is Palermo, for instance, who has presided over the city's ordinances in recent years cracking down on lap dancing.
"There are a lot of people who are not happy with Jimmy right now, i.e., the nude club owners," Greco said.
Palermo could not be reached for comment.
The bill would have allowed Palermo to buy into the city's pension fund retroactively. When it was proposed last year, the local legislative delegation axed it before it could reach lawmakers in Tallahassee.
It came back this year, sponsored by Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa, in a modified form that shifted focus from Palermo to city workers in his category. The City Council voted 4-2 to send the bill to Tallahassee. On Wednesday, the Senate passed it 40-0.
That left it in the hands of the House, where it languished until it was too late.
Palermo started working for the city in 1967 as an assistant city attorney. He said he didn't buy into the city pension then because he didn't think he would outlast Greco's first stint as mayor. In the 1980s, he declined again to buy in. He has said he couldn't afford it.
The bill would have allowed the 63-year-old Palermo, who now makes $121,388 a year, to receive a $43,000 annual pension for the rest of his life by paying in $95,000 to make up for contributions he would have made since being employed by the city, plus interest.
For the past 18 years, Greco said, city workers have been eligible for pensions without having to contribute money. "Mr. Palermo would have 35 years of service, and get no pension whatsoever, whereas everyone who's been there for the last 18 years gets one," Greco said. "I had no reason to believe there would be any controversy, except Jimmy is a friend of mine and there might be some kind of perception that we're helping him out."
Greco said he made phone calls to Tallahassee on behalf of the bill and on behalf of other Tampa measures, including one providing an enhanced pension package for Tampa firefighters and police. That bill passed both chambers.
When asked who he called on behalf of the Palermo bill, Greco said, "I don't have to divulge that." He added: "It's part of my job."
- Christopher Goffard can be reached at (813) 226-3337.
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